BRT Van Ness Design
Following years of planning, analysis and public feedback, the design for San Francisco’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route on Van Ness Avenue has been selected with busses to run down the center median from Mission to Lombard.

Under this proposal, BRT lanes would flank the center median except at stations where the BRT vehicles would transition to the center of the roadway and be protected by right side boarding platforms. This alternative would have the best attributes of [the center median alternatives] (e.g., faster, more reliable performance) while avoiding the need to acquire left-right door vehicles or rebuilding the entire median.

This alternative would also eliminate all left turns from Van Ness Avenue between Mission and Lombard streets with the exception of a southbound (two lane) left turn at Broadway in order to gain the most transit travel time benefits.

The touted benefits of the BRT route include a 32 percent reduction in travel time, a 40 percent reduction in delays, and a 50 percent increase in reliability.
Construction of the Van Ness Avenue BRT line could begin as early as 2015 with service in 2017. The plan will be presented to San Francisco’s Planning Commission this afternoon.
Van Ness Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) []

47 thoughts on “The Design And Details For Rapid Transit (BRT) Down Van Ness Avenue”
  1. Too funny. We just spent a bundle in stimulus money on the Van Ness mediam, complete with little celebratory signs.
    The last of it was completed in 2011 (last year).
    But was commenced around 2005.
    Now we are taking the last major North/South artery through the city’s east side and turning into a Rupaul’s Bus Race.
    Don’t hold your breath waiting for any of our civil servants responsible for pushing traffic to Polk, Larkin and Hyde to the East and the ever more jammed Gough and Franklin to the West… to Rupologize.

  2. Car traffic should be shifted to Franklin and Gough, which are basically highways already. Van Ness should become a transit-first street. Polk should be a pedestrian-first street because of all its bars and shops.
    Seems like a pretty simple plan to me.

  3. What no left turns off of Van Ness? That’s going to make it impossible for cars to use Van Ness. Don’t planners know that Americans are too lazy & stupid make a right turn and circle one block in order to cross Van Ness?

  4. How long before they build the BRT on Geary from Gough to the beach? I’m guessing 2020 at the earliest. 🙁

  5. How would this compare to simply running limited busses on Van Ness? It wouldn’t cost a dime to simply eliminate stops for an express bus and would move people faster.
    Shouldn’t they try that before spending this kind of money?

  6. BRT will be a failure on Van Ness. They might as well just convert VanNess to a bus-only street.
    Also, I love these projections: “32 percent reduction in travel time, a 40 percent reduction in delays, and a 50 percent increase in reliability” . This is pure speculation and lies. If the City is going to commit significant funds to this project based on such projections, it should hold the people behind them accountable! As in: fire everyone who signed off on these projections.

  7. The current three lanes in each direction on Van Ness provide *flexibility*. What happens when a delivery truck double-parks in the right-hand lane? When a vehicle is waiting for a parking spot, or trying to parallel park? Suddenly Van Ness has been reduced from three lanes to one — that will not work-out well.
    This plan will likely choke traffic (even more than already) on Van Ness. And pigs will fly before MUNI drivers deliver those sort of improved performance numbers.

  8. This idea may surpass the Parkmobile for San Francisco planning stupidity. Another small town solution for what was to have been a “world class” city. Can you imagine Chicago presenting this for Michigan Avenue?!

  9. This makes sense to me. If you have ever ridden the 47 or 49 on Van Ness, it is just incredibly difficult for the Muni driver to go from stop to stop, weaving through traffic and past double parked trucks. These are well-used routes, and something needs to be done to make them more efficient. Yes I do drive in the city, and yes I do know how to make a right hand turn, then a left, then cross Van Ness.

  10. Van Ness serves many, many more users than MUNI. Besides, we have the second best paid bus drivers in the country — with such a highly motivated work force, they can certainly determine solutions to increase safety and efficiency.

  11. This will only work if SF MUNI is removed from the equation and a new transit agency is formed to operate the routes.
    Even then, it’s a bad idea as Polk will become jammed. Geary needs this a lot more than Van Ness.

  12. “This [projection of operational improvement] is pure speculation and lies.”
    Do you have anything to back up that claim? At least Muni did operational analyses to support their claims.
    My gut feeling is that Muni’s operational improvement projections are about right. That’s mainly because the current service is so heavily handicapped that it really isn’t that hard to do better with BRT.

  13. Say no to this crazy bus scheme.
    1. Underground transit. Muni extension. Connect the city.
    2. Kill a lane or two and create bike corridors (v limited surface buses) once underground in place.
    3. Upzone corridor modestly (to Polk and Franklin) — and create developer incentive funding for this transit investment.

  14. I like your plan invented but don’t know where the funds to underground transit will come from. Here in the USA our transit funding is a highly political process and only receives crumbs left behind after the automobile based system has gorged on subsidies. Undergrounding is very expensive. But it also enables great service improvements. In comparison BRT is a bargain.
    As for creation of bike lanes, typically one car lane (travel or parking) can be converted into two bike lanes. Unless we want to create “protected” bike lanes. In that case it might be a 1-1 conversion depending on the design.
    Upzoning to to grow transit funding is a great idea so long as we don’t fall in to the usual trap of satisfying auto Level of Service goals before even looking at transit. Some bay area cities have already taken a stand and have explicitly excluded LoS goals from the planning process in key districts.

  15. Milkshake nails it. The projection is to reduce the travel time from a dismal 17.5 minutes to a less bad 12.9 minutes. 17.5 minute should be easy to beat with an exclusive lane.
    My bet is it will not significantly impact auto traffic. Bear in mind with the bus stopping every other block today the traffic is already disrupted. In a way this sort them into separate lanes and reduce lane switching. Banning left turn helps through traffic. Also when you include Franklin and Gough, the whole corridor has really high capacity with 5 lanes going in each direction. Hopefully improved travel time and improved frequency would attract people to use BRT thus reducing traffic overall.
    By the way revenue service is project to start in 2017. (what… 2017?)

  16. Van Ness is U.S. Highway 101. Probalbly subject to stae and federal rules regarding transportation. All those trucks will do well on Franklin and Gough.

  17. This is a great plan! I would love to see more underground subways, but BRT is a much cheaper way to improve service.
    And if we keep chipping away at improving muni service and speeding it up, the basic equation of (Time to Drive + Time to Park + Stress of Driving + Purely Wasted Time) Vs. (Time for Transit – Less Stress – Useful time Reading, etc) will tip further towards Transit. At some point you get a non-linear response and traffic shifts heavily towards transit.

  18. So, according to many posters here, expanding light rail (ie. the central subway) is too expensive and not worth it and BRT won’t work because MUNI is incompetent and it will increase traffic on other streets, we cannot build more roads without tearing down peoples homes and businesses oh, and bicycles/bike lanes also suck … so much for progressive SF.

  19. As for the bets and hunches above that traffic flow will be equal or better under the new plan, consider:
    Currently the three lanes on Van Ness provide flexibility. You can drive around a double-parked delivery truck or a granny trying to parallel park. The new plan removes an all purpose lane from Van Ness. The ONLY logical outcome is that traffic will be worse.
    Less flexibility = more bottlenecks.
    This is a supremely misguided proposal.

  20. Relieved they went with this particular plan. No left turns is already mostly the case on Van Ness. Like most driving in SF, the solution is to think ahead and know your route. No biggie for locals.
    Also happy to see they’re leaving most of the median. The old eucalyptus trees add a lot of valuable character to that avenue.

  21. Joshua – another perspective is that this project moves bus traffic from the curb lane to the center lane, leaving the primary cause of blocking the curb lane to be double parkers. It also magnifies how double parkers degrade traffic flow and creates a greater incentive for the SFPD to crack down on them. Currently even if the SFPD cracked down on double parkers the buses remain and the effect on traffic flow is not noticeably changed.
    And keep in mind that buses carry a large number of people. If you measure capacity in terms of the number of people (as LoS metrics do) then it will seem that capacity is reduced. But if you measure the number of *people* that the street carries it could very well increase.
    badlydrawnbear – funny you should bring up opposition to the central subway. I don’t know of one alternative transit advocate who thinks that the CS is a good idea and most think it is a waste of money. But there we go flushing cash down that hole. It isn’t the first time that a public agency has implemented something that transit advocates dislike.
    I usually don’t care for BRT but in this case it seems to make sense.

  22. ^
    Look at the diagram. They show a car parallel-parking, effectively making Van Ness a one-lane road. Currently, the center and left lanes can move around anyone blocking the right lane. But if only buses are allowed in the left, then there will be TWO blocking lanes.
    And the only way to assume that the number of people traveling on Van Ness will increase due to buses, is that marginal drivers will leave their cars at home. For a 5 minute savings, that’s not likely, especially as much of Van Ness traffic is driving-through the that area to access 101, etc.
    Totally support no left-hand turns, except obviously on Broadway…
    Final thought — why not make the current right hand lane bus only? Much easier and cheaper to try it, and if it doesn’t work, then paint-over the lines…if it does work, then move forward with the proposed project.

  23. I think the people who are opposed to this have never been on Van Ness. The right lane is already blocked constantly with buses. The left lane is the only one that moves somewhat fluidly, but every so often the left turn lane backs up and you get stuck. The middle lane is OK, but hectic since people are always switching into it because of blocked left or right lane.
    Separating buses and eliminating left turns will eliminate the two biggest slowdowns for cars. The next issue, delivery trucks is trivial to deal with, ban deliveries during rush hour.
    I honestly don’t know why anybody takes Van Ness to go cross town. Franklin and Gough are so much faster with the timed lights. I guess tourists take it since they don’t know any better.
    Finally bus service will obviously be significantly improved, and Van Ness is one of the busiest bus routes in the city.
    Undergrounding would be nice, but it costs $500 million – $1 billion a mile (I believe the CS is even more expensive than that). So undergrounding the 2 miles from Market to Bay would cost somewhere between $1-$2 billion, and once you are spending that kind of money it doesn’t make sense to run buses, you should be doing rail, and you’d have to figure out a way to connect it to the MUNI rail line. It would be great, but way too expensive right now. Spending the CS money on extending the MUNI rail system would have been good, but that money is already being wasted at this point and we’re not likely to get more anytime soon.

  24. sheesh everyone,
    by the time this project is finished, nobody will be parking–it’ll cost 10 bucks or more and hour, and the risk of a $200 parking ticket will further the sting.

  25. I think most people in favor of this plan do not actually drive Van Ness, Franklin, or Gough.
    Fact: The D and E level intersections near civic center are a major contributor to bus delays. Removing a lane will not improve through traffic, though perhaps putting the busses in a dedicated center lane will help them. It will make things worse for other vehicles.
    Fact: The right lane on Van Ness is impassable due to vehicles making right turns. With the legitimate pedestrian street-crossers impeding right turns, only 1-3 vehicles can make the right turn per light cycle. So this plan is not a 3 to 2 lane reduction, but instead a 2 to 1 lane reduction for non bus traffic.
    Fact: Gough is not Franklin’s parallel. Gough becomes one-way 3 lanes wide only south of California. It is a not useful route from Lombard to California, unless you really enjoy a slow clutch-burn. Even at rush hour it is still much faster to take Van Ness south from Lombard to California, make a right onto California, wait a full light cycle to cross Franklin, and then finally get on Gough.
    Those bulbouts as shown will cause even worse backups in the rightmost lane than we have today, because vehicles that could otherwise pull to the normal curb to allow through traffic to pass while they wait for a gap in pedestrian cross-traffic will now have to stop dead in a through lane.

  26. @MOD – While I take your point, and it’s a good point, I find the cries of the central subway being a boondoggle kind of deluded. NYC is putting in a new subway line under 2nd ave in Manhattan and, per mile, it is similar in cost as SF’s central subway.
    From wikipedia …
    “for Phase I of the project, a newly built line between the existing BMT 63rd Street Line and 96th Street and 2nd Avenue.[5] The total cost of the 8.5-mile (13.7 km) line is expected to be over $17 billion.[6]”
    There argument that the money is better spent elsewhere can always be made. If we ever want to extend light rail through the densely populated china town, north beach, and other neighborhoods also frequented by large amounts of tourist (which IMHO we should) the simple fact is, at some point, the city just has to grit it’s teeth and just do it.
    With the completion of the the 3rd street T line it seems to me the next logical step is to push the line north and then east, which I believe is the plan.

  27. Oasis – You words sound like an old school traffic engineer, referring to LoS metrics like “D and E level intersections” and disregarding the efficiencies of transit.
    Back in the day traffic engineers optimized only for vehicle throughput. I hope we have moved beyond serving cars to serving people. And a dedicated bus lane can serve a lot of people. Consider that it is possible to degrade those D and E level intersections to E and F and still move more people along Van Ness.

  28. badlydrawnbear – Yes, the main objection is that the money would be better spent elsewhere. And Geary surface rail comes up as the #1 alternative as a better use of funds. But there are other objections to do with the CS functionality, mainly its poor connections with BART and the Market Muni underground service. There are also complaints that it is too short to attract enough volume. But if it is the first step to extend to North Beach and beyond then it could pay off. In someone’s lifetime.
    Here’s another expensive rail project that transit advocates tend to hate: the Oakland airport connector (OAC). That project stands to put the BART to SFO to shame as a waste of money.

  29. Oasis: If the right lane on Van Ness is impassable due to vehicles making right turns, why would you have buses driving in that lane? That’s the point of this plan.
    badlydrawnbear: But the 2nd street subway is a proper subway, capable of carrying tens of thousands of people per hour. The central subway, unfortunately, is far more limited.
    Joshua: And the only way to assume that the number of people traveling on Van Ness will increase due to buses, is that marginal drivers will leave their cars at home.
    Not the only way. Bus ridership can grow without necessarily pulling directly from autos. If it’s a reliable and fast line, it’ll become a backbone of the system (more than it already is). Additionally, there are new projects being built regularly– the hospital, for starters, and various residential buildings. How the future inhabitants will get around is still up in the air– but this project will likely give a boost to transit as an option.

  30. MoD: to put it bluntly, screw surface rail. Light rail on grade is a waste of money. Underground certainly costs leagues more, but it’s the only way to go in a dense urban environment. We can nitpick about whether the central subway was the right place to put in a subway, but there is no doubt in my mind that if we can afford subways, we should build em.
    And in my opinion the reason Bart to Sfo is so underused is that it’s cheaper for a couple or family to take a cab. The obsession with making the extension pay for itself bit them in the ass. I say Bart to Oak ftw!

  31. And honestly I wonder if a lot of the vitriol for the central subway on SS (and among transit advocates elsewhere) is due to the fact that most of us here aren’t Chinese.

  32. “And in my opinion the reason Bart to Sfo is so underused is that it’s cheaper for a couple or family to take a cab.”
    Yes that’s a major factor. Another is the insanely inconvenient nature of operations that require travelers to transfer at either San Bruno or Millbrae (to another train for just ONE STOP) should they have the bad luck of needing to fly at certain times of the day. Compound that for people connecting to Caltrain who need to purchase and pay an additional fare for that last mile. The old clunky funky rental car bus that ran from Millbrae to SFO was much more convenient. And a lot cheaper.
    And don’t get me started about the poor schedule coordination between Caltrain and BART. Nothing like returning from a long flight then waiting 15 minutes to board BART which gets you to Millbrae just as Caltrain is leaving the station. Next train, one hour later. The old shuttle bus was perfectly synced with Caltrain.

  33. Agree with Milkshake Of Despair! The old SFO shuttle bus was far more convenient. Nothing is more embarrassing than returnhing home after an airport transit experience like the Heathrow Express train (NO STOPS!). The problem with all of SF transit is that there are not extra rails to accomodate any type of express trains. When working at Northwestern University in Chicago, I took the Purple Line express from downtown that bypassed about 24 stops between the central city and Northwestern.

  34. @Oasis,
    Good point. Right turning car waiting for pedestrians to cross could choke traffic. Let’s see if we can keep a red turn pocket to minimize this. Existing bus stop before the light is good candidates. Unfortunately I also see a lot of bulb out constructed that make this impossible.

  35. Good lord. Try it as cheaply as possible. Who needs “boarding platforms”? Seriously.
    Block the middle lanes, reverse the direction. TRY IT. And save to go underground.

  36. “And honestly I wonder if a lot of the vitriol for the central subway on SS (and among transit advocates elsewhere) is due to the fact that most of us here aren’t Chinese”
    And you know that to be true because????

  37. You’re right Dan, that bogus transfer is only required for people coming from Millbrae south or Caltrain. Still amazing how few passengers BART brings into SFO.

  38. I’ve wondered about Bart to SFO myself. It’s not THAT expensive– $8.10 to downtown is certainly less than a cab, even for two. Maybe they need better advertising in the arrivals area? I’ll grant that it’s slower than it ought to be.
    For the record, I looked up the statistics: Bart has roughly 6000 people arriving and 6000 leaving per day. SFO has 40,000,000 people a year (arriving + leaving + transiting), which is 110,000 a day. So Bart handles the equivalent of 11% of SFO passengers. Not great, but not negligible either.

  39. That’s because BART predominantly serves the East Bay and for the people in the East Bay the Oakland Airport is a lot closer. Living in SF I prefer to fly out of SFO and I usually take BART to & from, unless I can get a ride from someone during non-rush hour times or I get back late at night and I’m willing to pay the extra to get flown up 101 in a cab so I can get home in like five minutes (but I close my eyes so I don’t have a heart attack).

  40. “I’ve wondered about Bart to SFO myself. It’s not THAT expensive– $8.10 to downtown…”
    Yeah, that is a fair deal. I guess my impressions are tainted because I used to reach* SFO via Caltrain and BART. BART downtown to SFO is about 60 cents a mile and requires no transfers (thanks Dan!). Compared to Millbrae to SFO at $4 per mile seems like quite a gouge. And that doesn’t figure in the ticketing hassle for that last mile nor the bogus transfer.
    * I gave up on using BART to SFO since my route is so dysfunctional. These days when I’m traveling light and alone I’ll bike from Millbrae to SFO instead. Faster, easier, and far cheaper. I’ve even walked from San Bruno Caltrain to SFO airtrain. Pretty sad when a megamillion dollar BART extension cannot compete with walking.

  41. It would be interesting to know how BART’s ridership to SFO matches its projections.
    As for BRT, I wonder why Van Ness has been chosen over Geary for the first line? Geary has more space and it seems that would make BRT easier to implement.
    I’ve used the BRT lines in Mexico City, and they were pretty effective on very highly congested roads.

  42. Median BRT lanes are not something new; it is a tried and true method. They’ve been running it here in Seoul for almost decade and it runs pretty efficiently. The only drawback is that you have to cross the street to the median in order to board, and you sometimes end up helplessly watch your bus leaving while you are tied up on the shore waiting for the signal to change.

  43. You have actually biked to SFO? How did you do it? I bicycle everywhere and I cannot even imagine bicycling into the airport.

  44. The bike route isn’t the greatest but at least the distance is short. From the Caltrain station it goes essentially like this: Millbrae Ave over 101, left turn on S. McDonnell, and then a right turn just before you reach the “core” of the roadways connecting 101 to SFO. The hardest part is crossing 101 and you need to be quick and nimble to weave with the quasi-freeway traffic of the Millbrae Ave. interchange. Once you’re east of 101 the rest of the route is comfortable and easy.
    I tried asking google maps to show the route between Millbrae Caltrain and SFO and they route it shows is familiar but includes some extra switchbacks in the SFO roadway core that I do not recall. The whole ride takes a little over fifteen minutes.
    Bike parking at SFO is pretty good. There used to be only one parking location in the center parking garage, way up at the top of sector G. But it was a nice secure location next door to the valet parking office which is staffed 24 hours. Now it seems as if four new parking locations have come into existance:

  45. I have less of an issue with this if they also eliminate the buses that currently run along Polk and move their lines to Van Ness ,,
    also ,
    They need to do this with Market and eliminate all of the buses that currently use the curb

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